Psalm 96A song of faith and praise to the universal God of all people of the world.Luke 4 : 16 22In the Nazareth synagogue, Jesus announces his mission of words and deeds to bring Gods good news to all.
Val and I have just returned from a wonderful Uniting Church World Mission Tour of church and culture in Bali. Our group of 12 Victorians visited churches, services, bible studies, schools, orphanages, a tourism training program and hotel, educational, health, and agricultural work of the Bali Church for its people. We also met and shared with inspiring church leaders and Christian people. So today we have good news from Bali for you.
1. Bali and its people are recovering steadily from the bomb disasters of 2002 and 2005. Two deadly terrorist attacks on tourist areas killed over 200 people and maimed many more. We were deeply moved to visit the Bombing Memorial in Kuta where people gather to leave flowers and messages. Balis tourist industry was slashed by 60%, and had a severe effect on peoples lives everywhere. The bombings ruined businesses, destroyed jobs, reduced many Balinese to poverty and a struggle to survive. But the good news is that tourists are returning to this beautiful special place. Bali is safer, businesses are opening and growing, peoples lives are improving, and Bali is happier, hopeful and more harmonious.
2. The Bali Church is good news. We visited the Bali Protestant Church or GPKB, which has 73 congregations and 2 international churches in the small island. The Bali Church is poor in money and resources, but rich in faith, vision, and ministry. A small committed minority, it gives a mature and vigorous Christian witness out of proportion to its numbers. It is growing quite strongly as people become Christians from Hindu, Muslim, and other backgrounds. The GPKB is one of our Uniting Church partner churches, and values greatly our continued support of finance and prayer, as well as specific church workers we are able to send. Oona Scott from Toorak Uniting has just arrived to teach English to tourism students, and our relative Brian Niblock is serving as minister to the international church at Legian.
3. The Bali Church is good news because it is deeply and harmoniously contextualized in the Bali culture. This means its respects and relates to the local people and customs. Church buildings look like Balinese temples, with open and welcoming gateways, and sides open to contact the air, water, sunlight and greenery of nature. They are decorated richly with Balinese carving in stone and wood, elaborate floral decorations, Christian painting, symbols and candles, and sacred sanctuary umbrellas. Services are in Indonesian language, apart from the 2 English speaking international churches. Worship often includes Balinese gamelan music and dancing, and elaborate gift giving ceremonies for church offerings and special projects. So it is a Mango Tree Church with deep roots both in the gospel and Balinese culture, and produces mangoes of love, witness and service for God. The question it puts to us in our traditional Australian churches is this. How can we better respect and relate to our changing Australian multicultural culture here? How can our buildings, worship, music and outreach be more accessible to unchurched people, and less dependent on our inherited European traditions of our colonial past?
4. The Bali Church is good news because of the deep personal faith and open personal witness of church members. The Church and Christians have come from a background of misunderstanding and persecution, of hardship and poverty. To become a Christian in Bali often means opposition or separation from family and friends, and from the local community. The first Christians were exiled to the jungle by Dutch colonial rulers fearful of Hindu hatred and persecution. Even today Christians can lose land and inheritances if relationships with Hindu families are strained or broken by conversion.
Santiki was our lovely, intelligent and helpful tourist guide. We had a private Balinese meal at his humble home to meet his wife Sadi, and daughter Esther. Santiki was number four in a poor Hindu rice farming family. Because they could not afford to support him properly, they sent Santiki away to board in a Christian orphanage for poor kids. Their modest fees ensured his food, shelter, clothing and primary education. Santiki experienced Christian love and care, teaching, bible stories, prayer and worship. As a young man he decided to become a Christian and was baptised. His Hindu family was deeply upset, believing he was rejecting them and would not care for them, and prepared to disown him. Santiki prayed for help and guidance, talking and reassuring his family of his love and respect. He promised to honour their wishes for a Hindu burial and cremation, and they were finally reconciled. He became a Sunday School teacher, youth leader, and elder in the large Protestant Church in Denpasar, where he works a s a travel agent and guide. We know his story, because like most Balinese Christians, he is so grateful to God and willing to witness to others about his Christian experience and faith.
Balinese Christians are effective witnesses for Christ, openly, respectfully and honestly sharing their personal faith stories with others. They love inviting non believers to their homes and churches. And their church grows because of it. In Australia we need to lose our Anglo Saxon reserve about our faith and religion, overcome our fear of the prevailing secular climate, and learn again how to be effective caring witnesses to Gods humility and love towards others.
5. The Bali Church is good news because it knows how to join together words and deeds of love like Jesus did. In the Nazareth synagogue, Jesus gave a remarkable mission statement about his life purpose. And it was all about uniting his message and action, evangelism and service together to point to a God of universal love.
Balinese Christians are compassionate, and do so much good to help others. They are generous and hospitable to their neighbours. Their church does so much for the poor and needy. We were impressed with the church schools and orphanages, tourism training college, handicapped peoples program, farm projects for better cows and pigs, new crops for increasing income, furniture making, HIV/AIDS programs and much more.
Like our church, this is a church of caring deeds to help others which demonstrates Gods compassion and love for all in action. People see and ask why. The question goes around the community. The church and people explain the Good News of Gods love in Jesus Christ, and how it inspires them. Respect and interest grow, and people begin to respond from outside the church. So people want to learn more about Christianity, and begin to seek faith and baptism for themselves. Words and deeds both point to a God of love.
The lesson for us in Australia is that we need to unite our words and deeds together for God. Faith without deeds is dead we know. But deeds without the words of faith are ineffective and pointless. Like Jesus we must point by words and deeds together to a universal God of love for all people.
6. The Bali Church is good news because it respects and relates to people of other faiths, religions and values. It knows how to be a respectful Christian witness as a committed minority in a non Christian society, where 93% are good living, faithful, practicing Hindus. Christians and the Church are not overwhelmed and silenced by the huge non Christian majority ethos of Bali. They continue to give a loving, informed, respectful witness to their Christian faith and lifestyle wherever they can. And God, the Holy Spirit, who is present and active in all people, brings others to respect them, and some of them to faith.
In one local church bible study, we were surprised to meet a young veiled Muslim girl, who loves to join the Christians for singing, prayer, bible teaching and discussion each week, because her Christian friend invited her along. She related freely to us and the other Bali Christians there. That is so full of hope for the future.
We heard a great story of Christian/Hindu reconciliation in a country town. Islamic extremists came to plant hatred and suspicion of Christians among the people. Hindus turned on Christian neighbours and burnt down Christian homes. Then came the terrorist bombings. The Hindus had second thoughts and saw they had been misled. They sought forgiveness and reconciliation, and helped rebuild the Christian homes.
The Bali Church and leaders put prayer, time, and effort into improving inter faith understanding, dialogue and contacts. They are eager to foster trust, respect, and cooperation with Hindu and Muslim neighbours. They support discussion and exchange for greater community harmony and peace in the future. We here in multicultural Australia need to be committed and active locally and beyond, for the same worthwhile goals.
So the good news from Bali is about what a committed Christian minority with few resources can do when God blesses their vision and willingness to have a go. They say we encouraged them by coming as church visitors. But we say they encouraged us far more. We are privileged to be their church partners. We are privileged to learn from them and tell their story. We are privileged to encourage you and others to visit in the future on similar tours to this. Amen.